Sports commentary: Jilted

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The Hillcats move is a deja vu thing

By Mike Forster

  Picture this.  You're enjoying a nice meal at home when your wife tells you:  "I got an offer from Joe Schmedlap to run off with him.  He's got to work out the details.  If he does, I'm out of here.  If not, I'm happy to stay with you, Puddin'.

"By they way, in the event I do leave, I'll be happy to try and find a replacement for you."

Or, how about this one:  Your boss sidles up to you one day and says, "We think we've got a guy lined up who can do your job better than you.  We're putting him through the paces right now.  If he works out, you're out of here.

"If he doesn't, we're happy to keep you on as part of our happy family."

The above scenarios pretty much parallel what is going on with the Lynchburg Hillcats and their possible move from Central Virginia.

Some background, first.

Lynchburg has been home to a minor league baseball team since the mid-1960s.  The current team is affiliated with the Atlanta Braves.  That affiliation extends to player development, but not to the on-going operation of the franchise.

The Braves have offered to buy controlling interest in the team, with the stipulation that it will move the Hillcats to Wilmington, N.C.

The sale and move will take place only if the city of Wilmington and the Atlanta Braves can come to an agreement on building a new ballpark for the team.

Allow me to walk you through how this sort of thing works.

A study is conducted which will identify the huge financial boon to Wilmington that will come with the arrival of professional baseball in that city.

Based on that study, the Wilmingtonians will provide extremely favorable terms to the Braves organization.  Those terms might come in the form of the city (or more accurately, the city's residents) paying for a substantial part of the cost of the new stadium.

Perhaps Wilmington, unlike nearly every city that has lately attracted a professional franchise, will see the negotiations go its way.

My guess is, no matter the details of who pays for what, the citizens of Wilmington will get hit with an additional tax.  These sorts of "revenue enhancers" usually come in the form of meal or hotel room taxes.  That's because the tax usually has some linkage to the presence of the team.  Although, for some odd reason, it never occurs to anyone to slap the tax on something like, oh, the actual sale of tickets to games.

Sometimes, in the more galling scenarios, they come in the form of a grocery tax.

Everyone associated with this proposal is calling it a "long shot."

The news release I received from the Hillcats gave me the impression that these types of offers come along every week.

Lynchburg general manager Paul Sunwall stated, "After nearly 50 years of business, there's a time for a change."

We should all be OK with that.  After all, business is business.

What we shouldn't be OK with is the way business is done these days.  Companies (including professional sports teams) lead municipalities around by the nose, squeezing out every ounce of juice they can get.  This "juice" comes in the form of economic incentives.

Here's the intriguing part.  The companies always get their incentives.  As to whether the promised economic benefits accrue to the locality?  Well, they're kind of on their own when it comes to those.

The only positive thing that I see in this Hillcat situation is that nobody has approached any local government, demanding that it pony up funding for a new stadium.  Said demand implies that the team leaves if the funding doesn't materialize.

Yeah, no one has done that.  Yet.


I used to live in Richmond.  From that vantage, I saw Atlanta pack up their AAA franchise and move it to Gwinnett, Georgia.

Now, I  get to see a similar fate befall another local team.

If history holds, therefore, I'll soon be moving to Jackson, Mississippi.  There, I'll be able to witness the Braves uproot their AA affiliate, which calls Jackson its home.

On second thought, I think I'll stay right where I am.  Mississippi?  Yikes!